Chernobyl clean up to be helped by biofuels sector

Written by Giles Clark, London

Decontaminating the lands affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is the Belarus government's number one priority, and it will pursue this by building up a giant biofuels sector according to Mr Andrei Savinykh, deputy permanent representative at Belarus's mission to the UN in Geneva. Speaking in Brussels, this week, he said that his government was convinced by scientific advice that repeated harvesting of biomass crops as feedstock for biofuel refineries would remove radionuclides from the soil in the contaminated areas.

It is possible, he said, that the construction of this new agro-industrial sector could result in radioactivity being removed from 50,000 square kilometres of land within 20 to 40 years, rather than the centuries which natural decay would take. The government is committed to completing the planning phase for programme by the end of 2009, and implementation would begin in 2010.

He stressed that the normal agricultural production cycle in the affected territories was unable to remove radionuclides via the cycle of 'planting/harvest/process/food'. Even though plants absorb radioactive particles such as caesium 137 and strontium 90, these went back into the soil as straw and other crop wastes were put back on the land.

"At the final stage, we can remove food from the production chain," he explained, "and substitute an agro-industrial product in the form of biofuels. In addition, we must add safe processing and storage of radionuclides from the final waste. Then we can expect that repeated harvesting of biomass crops which absorb the radioactivity will remove it once and for all. Instead of centuries of natural decay, this process will cut the time to 20 to 40 years."

Greenfield Project Management Ltd, plans a multi-fuels refinery at Mozyr, Belarus, producing 550 million litres of ethanol annually along with biodiesel, biogas and electricity. Each stage can use waste from the previous stage along with fresh biomass feedstock. Initially, the fuels will use feedstock such as sugar beet and oil-bearing plants from clean lands, but following field trials and safety design all facilities will begin using crops from the affected areas.

Existing technologies will be applied to remove all radioactivity from the final products and from any effluents and emissions, leaving small quantities of radioactive waste to be stored in safe facilities.

"This land is ideal for growing energy crops," said Mr Savinykh, "by switching to these crops, we will not be competing with existing agriculture or taking any food from even one person's mouth. Instead, we will bring employment, incomes, and hope to these devastated regions, which have seen little improvement since the catastrophe in 1986."

A seminar in Minsk is planned for November 2008 to elaborate plans for the enormous project, in conjunction with international organisations already involved with the Chernobyl problem, such as the UNDP, WHO, IAEA, World Bank, EU bodies, and NGOs.



Partners: Social Network